Addiction stories: Alcohol, marijuana, crime, and John’s life

The following story was shared by a young reader. I was first drawn to it because it mirrored mine to a large extent. Fortunately, John decided to pull out before he let his life go down as far as I allowed myself to go. For that, and for his courage in sharing his story, I applaud him.

John’s addiction story

My name is John and I am an alcoholic and a raging drug addict. I’m seventeen years old and only used for about 2 and a half years, but that was more than enough for my life to fall to pieces because of my addiction.

When I was fourteen I got a little drunk for the first time. I hated the way the alcohol tasted, and I hated how it made me so sick. The effects were nice, but I wished that I could get them without having the unpleasant side effects.

I found a solution to this problem at age 15 with marijuana. Within my a few months of my first time smoking, I was getting high multiple times every single day. My friends were changing rapidly because the ones who really cared didn’t approve of my heavy usage. I responded to this by getting new friends. Around this time I also became addicted to stealing in order to support my addiction and also in order to look cool by having a lot of money. My friends and I would get high and drunk and then go out at night and steal hundreds and hundreds of dollars from people’s unlocked cars.

I began selling pot at age 16. Dealing was a new experience for me. I won’t lie and say it wasn’t fun – it was, definitely. But the rush of making heaps of money and being loved by all your peers becomes an addiction in itself. I was dealing pretty heavily, for a high schooler selling pot – some days I would sell a thousand dollars worth of it at school. Afterward, I lived what I thought was a carefree and safe lifestyle; I smoked weed with friends all day, and eventually we moved onto harder drugs.

My usage increased heavily and I began using other drugs as well. I slowly began trying all the things I said I would never do, and before long, my life was absolutely governed by cocaine, alcohol, prescription medications, and lots and lots of pot. I got really into cocaine a few months into it – and then everything changed. Walls fell down; suddenly opiates weren’t anywhere near as scary to me, hence my common run-ins with Vicodin, Valium, Percocet, and Oxycontin. None of the prescription pills had the same kind of power coke had over me, though; my teeth still chatter sometimes when I start craving the rush of that manipulative white powder going up my nose. Cocaine is a pretty serious drug, and I was hooked before I even realized what was happening. This is unlike my experience with getting hooked on pot and booze; with those, I could recognize the kind of path I was going down, but I just couldn’t stop. There is a reason coke is called a “hard drug” – because you’ll fall for it. Hard. People go into with the mindset that they can handle it. Maybe some people can. I, however, am not one of those people – the second I pop a pill or blow a line, all I can think about is getting more to keep my buzz going.

Of course I also began getting into trouble with the law. February 16, 2009, I was arrested for the first time after picking up a couple ounces of weed. I met some buddies in town to smoke, but they didn’t inform me that they had vandalized a building at a school earlier. Before I knew it we were being followed by policemen. They caught up with us, encircled us in cop cars, causing a roadblock, and searched all of us. They immediately found my bag of weed and cuffed me, along with all my buddies. I played the innocent child, though, and got off with a possession charge.

The second arrest took place only four months later. I was back to my old dealing ways – by now I was suicidal, addicted to all kinds of drugs, and had no faith in other people. I got high and brought an ounce of weed with me to school, and was found by the school officer in a bathroom stall, selling a few grams to a 14 year old. I was arrested with intent to sell, endangering a minor, possession on school grounds, and possession of marijuana. Also, I was expelled from school. I began saying I was going to kill myself to gain some sympathy, at which point I was placed in a 2 week long mental ward. After that, it was off to rehab for me, where I had sex, did drugs, lied and stole.

A few days after getting out of treatment, I was using again. I remember feeling like an empty shell – I would stay up for days at a time, stealing, lying, and using people to get my drugs and liquor. My family thought I was sober at this point, and I began at a character-based boarding school in August.

I brought a lot of pot with me and resisted everything the school was trying to offer me. Once the pot ran out, I began huffing up to 2 cans of computer duster every day, along with a daily dosage of booze and a whole lot of cough medicine.

I hit bottom on November 16, 2009. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the most important day of my life – that was the day I finally decided I had had enough. I called up my mother, crying and saying I was really done this time, but she didn’t believe me (who could blame her). So I then called up an old friend who I knew was heavily involved in a 12-step group. This man is my sponsor today. We work our program together, and maintain daily contact.

At almost 90 days sober, I can honestly say I have never been so grateful and serene in my entire life. If you’re reading this and you can relate to my story, please know that there is a way out of the twisted insanity that is drug addiction and alcoholism. I should be dead right now, but I’m still here – as far as I’m concerned, that’s proof enough for me to believe in a loving Higher Power. As long as I remember to help other addicts, talk to my sponsor, work my 12 step program, and remain honest, I don’t have to drink and drug today. And to me, this is a miracle.

A little insight

John’s story mirrors that of many other addicts: Early innocent use followed by the dissolution of self-imposed rules about what one will, and won’t, engage in. Cocaine might seem scary at first, but after a lot of weed, alcohol, and some ecstasy, it might just lose that edge. As I’ve talked about in other posts, there are quite a few common personality issues that make it even less likely that a future addict will say no to increasing degrees of abuse.

Once again I want to make a point that I think it important: Drugs are the road, but not the problem per se when it comes to addiction. The vast majority of people who try drugs don’t get addicted to them – What we need to get better at is understanding the process by which those who do, develop problems. This includes earlier identification, better targeted prevention, and more effective treatment. That’s my take on all of this at least.

Drugs and Pregnancy: Drinking while pregnant

A number of questions from readers, as well as some of the searches that have landed users on this site (yes, we get to see that) have made me realize that many of you are wondering about the effects of drugs and alcohol on pregnancies. Especially given the fact that my wife is now pregnant with our first child, I think this is an important topic that deserves attention; for this reason, I’m going to dedicate a few posts to it, paying close attention to different classes of drugs. Given the fact that one of the most commonly used substance among my readers (per this poll) is alcohol, we’re going to start there.

Alcohol and pregnancy

Doctors frequently advise mothers-to-be to abstain from alcohol during their pregnancy. However, avoiding alcohol is difficult given how common it is in social situations. Also, many mothers-to-be are unconvinced and continue drinking, perhaps reducing their consumption, but not stopping altogether. So, can a glass of wine a day really have any impact on an infant’s health?

The most critical effects of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, aside from stillbirth (1), are a collection of symptoms known as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), estimated to occur in approximately 1-7 per 1000 live births (2). FAS individuals suffer a wide range of mental handicaps including diminished intellectual ability, and learning difficulties. Children with FAS exhibit poor socialization and frequently engage in disruptive and maladaptive behaviors. Additionally, they are more susceptible to drug abuse, criminal behavior, and psychiatric disorders. Research seems to indicate that drinking more than a single daily drink at least doubles the probability of producing a significantly growth-retarded infant (3). Drinking less than one daily drink seems to bring about a much lower risk for serious growth-related effects, though the more subtle effects of any alcohol consumptions are still being investigated. Even a single drink a day has been shown to be associated with reduced infant weight and an increased probability of preterm birth (4).

Remember: When considering alcohol in research, a single drink means the equivalent of a single ounce of pure alcohol. A 12 oz. beer or an 8 oz. glass of wine, but no more, would be equivalent. Also, an average of one drink per day does not mean that drinking five drinks on Friday and laying off alcohol for the rest of the week is okay. Even a single binge drinking episode greatly increases the risk of complications! Finally, drinking during the first trimester is far more dangerous to a growing fetus than doing so later in the pregnancy.

So in short, toasting champagne at a wedding, or enjoying an occasional glass of wine with dinner will most likely not do great harm to an ongoing pregnancy. Just be very conscientious of your behavior and be sure not to let things get out of hand. This is certainly an issue where a single night of letting go could result in a lifetime of regret. If you find it difficult to reduce your use after finding out about a pregnancy, it could be an early sign of trouble drinking or even alcoholism…

Look for upcoming posts on smoking and drug use risks to pregnancy!

Citations:

1) Kesmodel, U. Wisborg, K, Olsen, S.F., Henriksen, T.B., & Secher, N.J. (2002). Moderate alcohol intake during pregnancy and the risk of stillbirth and death in the first year of life. American journal of epidemiology, 155(4), 305-312

2) Niccols, A. (2007). Fetal alcohol syndrome and the developing socio-emotional brain. Brain and cognition, 65, 135-142.

3) Mills, J.L., Graubard, B.I., Harley, E.E., Rhoads, G.G. & Berendes, H.W. (1984). Maternal alcohol consumption and birth weight. How much drinking during pregnancy is safe? Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 252.

4) Dew, P.C., Guillory, V. J., Okah, F.A., Cai, J., & Hoff, G.L. (2007). The effect of health compromising behaviors on preterm births. Maternal and child health journal, 11(3), 227-233.

Alcohol, benzos, and opiates – Withdrawal that might kill you

Along with teaching and telling stories, part of my goal here at All About Addiction is to get important information out to those who can benefit from it.

Most drug users who quit drug use “cold turkey” have to go through withdrawal of some sort. Withdrawal is never comfortable, but sometimes it can actually be dangerous. The list below outlines some drugs that should NEVER be quit suddenly without medical supervision. This is the reason why some rehab treatment is preceded by a medical detox period lasting anywhere from 2 days to a week or more.

Which withdrawals can actually kill?

  1. Alcohol – Yes, after long term use, withdrawal from alcohol can kill. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome can take on mild, moderate, or severe forms. If while withdrawing from alcohol a person develops a fever, extreme nausea, diarrhea, or DT (delirium tremens), they need to be rushed to see a doctor as soon as possible. In fact, alcohol withdrawal after heavy, chronic use is best managed under the care of a doctor or a professional medical detox unit. By using medications that relieve withdrawal symptoms, these professionals can essentially eliminate any of these risks.
  2. Benzodiazepines – Benzos were introduced as a replacement to barbiturates that were causing common overdose cases, many of which resulted in death. Nevertheless, withdrawal from extended use of benzodiaepines can kill. Whether Xanax (alprazolam), Ativan (lorazepam), Valium (diazepam) or other variations, long term use of Benzodiazepines requires medical supervision to be completed successfully with minimal side-effects and risk to the patient. Normally, the withdrawal process is managed by slowly reducing the dose and transferring the patient from a slow acting, to a long acting, form of the drug. Still, full resolution of benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome can take up to 6 months (or even longer).
  3. Opiates – Many people are surprised to learn that in most cases, withdrawal from many opiates is not deadly. Still there are some very important exceptions. Methadone, a long-acting opiate often prescribed as a replacement for heroin can cause death during withdrawal if it’s consumed in high enough doses for a long enough period. The debate of whether the state should be prescribing something like this should be saved for a later date. It is one of the better ways of getting people off of heroin, though obviously, all it does is replace dependence on one substance with another, more manageable one. Also, some of the recently popular methods of rapid-detox from heroin addiction can themselves cause death, and many other negative side-effects. Overall, I would recommend checking in with a physician and conducting opiate withdrawal in a controlled setting. Withdrawal under Suboxone or Subutex can be far less horrific.

Much of the danger in withdrawal from all of these drugs has to do with the body’s response to the extreme changes in the chemical processes going on in the brain and the rest of the body. Alcohol, Benzos, and Opiates interference with the GABA system, the body’s most common downregulator.

Withdrawal from these drugs is like trying to turn the heat up in a cold house with a broken thermostat and an out of control heater – It won’t always lead to disaster, but it’s a bad idea.

The withdrawal danger summary

That’s pretty much it. “Cold Turkey” withdrawal from cocaine, marijuana, crystal meth, ecstasy, GHB (never mix GHB with alcohol though!!!), and many other recreationally used drugs will not lead to death in the vast majority of cases. While it may make you uncomfortable, and you may feel moody, constipated, dehydrated, hungry or nauseous, and a whole slew of other symptoms, the chances of someone actually dying from withdrawal are very small.

If you have any more specific questions regarding your case though, don’t shy from asking me!

One is too many, a thousand not enough: Does a slip or relapse mean the end?

Breaking news: When alcoholics who have gone through treatment have a drink after a certain length of sobriety, most don’t go off the deep end.

Slip scares and abstinence relapse

RelapsingThe old AA adage: “One drink is too many, and a thousand not enough,” refers to the fact that alcoholics who are sober are assumed to return to their evil ways after even a small slip (known as a relapse). This notion is meant to warn AA members to resist temptation lest they find themselves right back where they started. Or worse.

Most research into sobriety considers a person a success only if they remain sober throughout the study period. The followup periods last anywhere between 6 months to a year (or sometimes more). Have a drink, and you’ve lost. Game over. No one’s ever really looked at what people who have relapsed actually do after the relapse. Which is why the recent findings reported in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors are so intriguing.

Recent relapse research findings

When looking at the behavior of 563 participants, the researchers found that 30% stayed sober for the entire 12 month follow-up period. This leaves a whopping 70% who had at least a drink in the year following treatment. However, the vast majority of those who drank in the first year after treatment (82%) developed moderate, infrequent, drinking habits. In fact, only about 6% started drinking heavily and frequently after their relapse. Even of those who drank, as many as 25% were completely dry for at least an entire month after their relapse.

The bottom line on relapse?

These findings suggest that at least for a year after becoming sober, a relapse is not necessarily the detrimental, destructive, event it has always been feared to be. It is surely possible that these drinking habits change, but according to these findings, if drinking frequency goes anywhere after the initial relapse, it’s down, not up.

I’m not trying to make light of relapse here, and I’m certainly not saying that relapsing is a positive thing. Nevertheless, given the fact that relapse is almost always a part of the recovery process, I’m suggesting that having a relapse shouldn’t scare everyone involved. It doesn’t seem to in any way suggest a necessary demise.

Citation:

Witkiewitz, K. & Masyn, K. E. (2008). Drinking trajectories following an initial lapse. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 22, 157-167.

Cigarettes, smoking, and drinking alcohol – The connection that may help you quit smoking

Contributing co-author: Andrew Chen

It’s no secret that alcohol and cigarettes go hand in hand, but for most drinker-smokers, the reasons are probably a mystery. Does alcohol simply make people less able to control urges or is there something more direct about the connection between the two?

Alcohol reduces control over cravings

Smoking and drinking

A recent field study published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors examined exactly this question using 74 smokers who recorded their daily experience in a journal. Researchers found that alcohol consumption was associated with more frequent urges to smoke, signaling that indeed, drinking may increase the “want” while lowering the ability to control the cravings. However, the study also found that smokers reported greater satisfaction after smoking while they were drunk. Alcohol consumption predicted higher ratings of cigarette buzz, taste, and urge reduction after smoking.

Timing and context are important

Interestingly, the effects reported were only observed within the first hour after drinking, a period when alcohol content (BAC) is rising. (2)

Last but not least, situational factors seem to account for some of the effects of alcohol on smoking. Settings like bars and restaurants, where smoking and drinking were permitted, were associated with more frequent urges to smoke and greater satisfaction after smoking. Social settings, like being around drinkers and smokers, are also associated with increased urge and satisfaction.

How to quit smoking? Reduce, or stop, drinking

So, if you’re trying to quit smoking, cutting down on drinking, at least in the initial phases of your quitting attempts, might be a good idea. It may reduce your cravings, and it may make you like the smoking a bit less while you’re quitting. If nothing else, it’ll get you out of situations where smoking occurs most often which will, by itself reduce your smoking.

Citations:

1. Henningfield, J. E., Chait, L. D., & Griffiths R. R. (1984) Effects of Ethanol on cigarette smoking by volunteers without histories of alcoholism, Psychopharmacology, 82, 1-5

2. Piasecki T.M., McCarthy D.E., Fiore M.C., & Baker T.B. (2008) Alcohol consumption, smoking urge, and the reinforcing effects of cigarettes: An ecological study. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 22(2):230-9.

Aggression-related effects of alcohol – Irritability, brain function, and violence

Irritability is an important factor determining alcohol-related aggression among men, according to a recent study.

bar fightThe study of 313 men and women tested people’s likelihood of giving shocks to a fictitious opponent after drinking either alcohol or a placebo drink. Researchers used measures of brain functioning and irritability taken before drinking to test their relationship to the participants’ aggressive behavior.

It seems that for men, but not for women, irritability was an important factor in the relationship between overall brain functioning and aggression. It’s important to note here that irritability is considered an overall personality trait, and not a momentary sort of thing. The more irritable the intoxicated men were, the stronger the effect of the alcohol’s brain dysregulation was on aggression.

The effect of brain dysregulation (known as cognitive dysregulation in the literature) and of irritability alone on alcohol-related aggression had been studied before. However, this study allowed researchers to assess the relationship between all three variables.

Among all the effects of alcohol, this sure helps explain bar fights…

Clubs, drugs, and dancing – Crystal meth, and club drug use

Anyone involved with the dance/rave/club culture knows that drugs often go hand in hand with music and dancing. Club drugs, as well as alcohol and drug abuse, are often rampant in the social groups full of excited club goers. Previous academic studies supported this notion but could not distinguish if the drug use took place inside the clubs/venues or whether people consumed before going out.

A recent study seems to support the latter explanation (drugs consumed before the club); at least for all drugs aside from crystal meth.

Club Dancing

In this study experimenters tested patrons as they entered and exited the club. Approximately ¼ of the attendees tested positive for some sort of drug when they entered as well as when they exited the club. There was not a significant difference in percentage of those that entered with drugs already in their system than those who exited with drug use. This supports the conclusion that no significant amount of drug use took place inside the club (excluding alcohol).

But this wasn’t true for all drugs. Cocaine and marijuana usage was the same at entrance and exit but positive crystal meth tests nearly doubled from entrance to exit.

Frighteningly enough 16% of the patrons exited the club with a BAC greater than .08%. Many of the people who were taking drugs also consumed alcohol which poses an even greater threat since the interactions between drugs and alcohol can cause severe reactions as well as a more severely impaired judgment.

Since most patrons entered with drugs already in their system, it seems reasonable to suggest that these clubs do attract drug users. Most people who entered without drug use did not take drugs during the course of their stay at the club. However the usage of methamphetamines while in the club definitely needs to be looked into further, as the effects of taking that inside the club in addition to drinking can cause many problems (legal and health wise) for both the patron and the owners.

Co-authored by: Jamie Felzer

Citation:

Miller, Holden, Johnson, Holder, Voas, Keagy (2009) Biological Markers of Drug Use in the Club Setting. Journal of Studies on Drugs and Alcohol. Vol 70 (9)